The Rangers have successfully protected a late lead in two straight games. Is it possible they’ve fixed the problem?
During last week's road trip out west, the Rangers allowed their opponent to score a goal in the final minute in three straight games. In their last two games, both at home, they protected a lead and scored insurance goals to extend their winning streak to four games. On Sunday, Jimmy Vesey sealed it with an empty-net goal in the 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, and on Tuesday it was Mika Zibanejad’s opportunistic jamming in of a loose puck in a 5-3 win that capped a rally over the Montreal Canadiens.
After a rough start, the Rangers are 7-7-1 and feeling better about things.
“I think we’re learning from experience right now, and that’s a great sign,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “I thought our third period was really good [Tuesday] and the penalty kill was really good. So we just try to keep pushing here, and try to continue that good feeling we’ve had as of last week or so.’’
Lundqvist said those words on Monday, after the win over Buffalo, but he could have easily said the same words after the Blueshirts rallied from two goals down and played an inspired third period in the win over Montreal. He didn’t, because the Rangers were off on Wednesday, a well-deserved day off after two games in quick succession after a nine-day road trip.
“It’s been a long stretch here,’’ coach David Quinn said after Tuesday’s game. “That West Coast trip can take a lot out of you, and you get in Friday at 8 a.m. and you play Sunday . . . I love how we responded coming back from the trip and we win two hockey games.’’
“Obviously, after what happened on the west coast, it’s important for us to be able to close out games, and we did a good job,’’ Lundqvist said Monday. “Smart plays, and worked really hard in the end. The most important thing is to win, but you still want to feel like you can close out games.’’
Defenseman Brady Skjei felt pretty confident Monday that whatever issues had been plaguing the Rangers in their last-minute collapses – and Quinn had pointed out there were different issues in each of the three games in California – have been fixed.
“That first game in San Jose, we tried to learn off that, and had the same exact opportunity in Anaheim to do the same thing – couldn’t get done again,’’ Skjei said. “But being in the situation again [Sunday] night and finishing the job, that feels good, and just kind of shows you that we can close out games, and use that confidence going forward here when we’re six-on-five, that we can close it off.’’